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What to Make of Debate Over Openly Gay Athletes in the Locker Room & Other Recent Sports Issues

by on February 18, 2014 6:30 AM

Now that Missouri linebacker/NFL prospect Michael Sam has said he is gay, the national networks are going to wall to wall with coverage.

Among the subjects I keep hearing discussed are how people will just need to learn to accept openly gay men in locker rooms and how anyone who doesn't is homophobic and hate-filled. I am also told gay men are just like straight men, except in their sexual preference.

That's fine, except that in order to prove he doesn't hate that gay man, a straight man has to disrobe and interact in the shower with him? I guess I'm just not bright enough to follow the logic. It is not out of fear or hatred that I would not want to do that but rather just a sense of decency and comfort level.

I still don't see the difference between that and a female player -- and there have been a few at the collegiate level -- in the locker room. If the locker room is vital to team bonding, why are the women not allowed to shower with their teammates at these colleges? It doesn't bother me in the least that an openly gay man would play football or hold any other job in this country. But I fail to see the logic in having to shower together to prove you don't fear or hate another person.

Another story that is getting a lot of coverage is Oklahoma State basketball player Marcus Smart shoving a fan in a road game at Texas Tech. Smart reacted to what he says was a racial slur and was ejected and suspended for three games.

The fan, Jeff Orr, has voluntarily agreed to not attend any more games this season although both he and several fans sitting around Orr deny a racial slur was ever uttered. The entire incident got me to thinking, though, about how truly remarkable Jackie Robinson was. Smart reacted to what MAY have been a racial slur.

Robinson had to stoically ignore thousands and thousands of slurs on a daily basis to say nothing of the death threats and vile words written and said before and after the games. And he HAD to just take it. And not only did he take it, he performed at a very, very high level. This is not to justify poor fan behavior today nor is it necessarily to slam a kid for having a human reaction. But it is simply to recognize once more just how special of a man and an athlete Jackie Robinson was.

Speaking of sports fans, I've been reading a lot of message boards lately and there are a lot of fun diatribes, some very insightful comments and some good information that can be found there. But there is also a lot of pathetic comment from anonymous folks who seem to think they can build themselves up by tearing others down.

I realize this will likely fall on deaf ears for those this is intended to reach, but I'm going to give it a try anyway. College athletes are young men and women who are playing for the love of sport. Yes, in many cases at Penn State, they are getting scholarship money and that is very significant.

But these kids are dealing with competition at a very high level and the demands that come with that. They are dealing with, in most cases, a challenging academic curriculum. And they are dealing with the transitions that most college students go through. Some have rocky romantic relationships, some are having family problems or financial issues.

Others are dealing with the death of a relative or sometimes a friend. Some get run down. Some actually get sick. Some are adjusting to being away from home for the first time in a large, sometimes intimidating, place. Some are trying to figure out what they really want to do with their lives.

Many are giving back to the community as well, working on different projects and helping area youth. So, perhaps, while you're eating your Doritos in your Mom's basement while looking for a job, you could spare us with the "(insert kid's name here) just isn't living up to my expectations" or the "(so-and-so) was embarrassing with that performance" rant.

I get it -- you want your teams and athletes to perform well and you're disappointed when they don't. But they are, too. I guess I just don't see the benefit to posting on message boards that an athlete hasn't lived up to your standards or why you think that should matter to anyone else.

Perhaps, as college fans, we could show the kids and their families some respect and support and some love during the tough times as well as the good.

I completely understand being disappointed in a result or a performance but perhaps, at least when dealing with college kids, we could show some graciousness for the efforts they are making? Just a thought.

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Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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